Signs Your Relationship With Food Is Unhealthy + How To Heal
Most people's relationships with food is complex: after all, it’s a complicated thing that nourishes us, whilst also giving us emotional comfort, connection with others, and can determine whether we have a better or worse overall sense of health and wellbeing.
By Liv Surtees / Nov 10, 2023
The media, and more specifically, the obscene diet culture that encompassed the 90s and 2000s, was incredibly detrimental to a lot of people, meaning that for many of us that sprung into real adulthood over the last few years, we harbour negative relationships with food.
Today, of course, social media is taking the reins and has a lot to be blamed for (or rather the accounts creating the content do) when it comes to perpetuating disordered eating, diet culture, and unhealthy relationships with food.
Even if you think that your relationship with food is pretty good, there might still be some elements to that relationship that are negative or even detrimental to your health and wellbeing.
But don’t panic, this article isn’t here to bring out insecurities or unearth problems. Instead, it’s here to educate you so that you can realise the signs of having an unhealthy relationship with food, and help you heal that relationship if you struggle with it.
So, let’s dive in, start taking back the power, and cultivate a kinder, happier, and healthier relationship with food!
what does it mean to have an unhealthy relationship with food?
Having an unhealthy relationship with food has nothing to do with the quality, type, or calorie count of the food that you’re eating, so let’s start there!
Whilst all the creators of those “drop a dress size in 3 weeks” programmes would be offended by hearing this (and rightly so), the truth is that just because you’re eating a salad, that doesn’t mean you have a healthy relationship with food.
A healthy relationship with food looks like eating that isn’t disordered in any way, being mindful of any behaviours you have surrounding food, and eating in a way that nourishes you and doesn’t encourage any unhealthy habits or responses in the mind.
Essentially, if you have a healthy relationship with food you’re unlikely to actually think about food too much - you definitely won’t be hyper fixated by it. Instead, you will give yourself and your body unconditional love, acceptance and support to nourish yourself and it won’t negatively affect you in any way.
However, when you have an unhealthy relationship with food, you might find that it triggers you, spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about food, calorie count, restrict, binge, or have any kind of disordered eating, and it may affect your body image, mental health, or physical health.
causes of unhealthy relationship with food
There’s no definitive cause for an unhealthy relationship with food: there are many factors and reasons behind why an individual may have an unhealthy relationship with food.
However, like so many other things, often the relationship you have with food is formed in childhood or adolescence. For example, if you were taught to have an unhealthy relationship with food by those looking after you or you used food as a coping mechanism within your younger years, you’re much more likely to have an unhealthy relationship with food as an adult.
After all, habits are hard to break and having an unhealthy relationship with food is psychological: it can take time, hard work, and support to work through these problems.
Of course, you can also develop an unhealthy relationship with food in your adult life. For example, if you have experienced a traumatic event or loss you may have developed an unhealthy relationship with food, or if you struggle with body image issues you may use food as a sort of control tool.
Additionally, research has shown that eating disorders, just like many other mental illnesses, may actually be influenced by genetics, so some people are more at risk of developing eating disorders.
signs you may have an unhealthy relationship with food
Unfortunately, many people have an unhealthy relationship with food without even realising it, especially if they don’t openly discuss food with others or if they are seen as being a “healthy” individual.
However, there are certain signs that show you have an unhealthy relationship with food. So, let’s take a look at some of them:
You feel the need to calorie count and keep a log of the things you have eaten.
You categorise foods into “bad” and “good”.
You put certain foods as “off-limits”.
You find yourself overeating when you’re full.
You eat unhealthy small amounts of food.
You have anxiety about eating around other people.
You try different diets regularly.
You have a deeply emotional connection to food.
You use food as a coping mechanism for emotions, especially when you feel emotionally triggered.
You use food to feel more in control.
You think that the food you consume is linked to your self-worth.
You suffer from an eating disorder (e.g bulimia, anorexia, orthorexia, bingeing).
6 WAYS TO HEAL AND HAVE A HEALTHIER RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
If you notice any of the signs above, aside from seeking professional help (which we highly recommend and will discuss more in-depth below), here are 6 ways you can heal the relationship you have with food:
Identify Your Triggers & Habits
Self-awareness is key in all aspects of life, but especially when it comes to trying to heal your relationship with food. If you can identify the triggers and habits you have, you can then focus on working through them and overcoming them. Additionally, you’ll also be more aware and mindful of them in the future if they do pop up again.
Stop Categorising Foods
One of the most impactful things you can do on this healing journey is stop categorising foods. There are simply no “bad” or “good” foods, just foods that you can decide to eat or not eat as part of a balanced diet. Once you stop demonising foods, it can often be easier to incorporate a larger variety of foods into your diet..
Stop Punishing Yourself
What’s done is done, and you can’t change what’s happened. So, rather than looking back on what you ate yesterday or how your relationship with your body felt a week ago: you are where you are right now, so don’t punish yourself for what has been and gone.
You’re on the path to having a healthier relationship with food and at times you might find it difficult, slip up, or take a step back. However, don’t punish yourself for anything along the way, it’s simply not useful: you’re on the right track so be kind to yourself!
Listen To Your Body
Becoming more in-tune with your body can be incredibly helpful when trying to heal your relationship with food.
Take time every day to listen to what your body is calling out for: initially this will be difficult but after practising this for a while, you’ll be able to listen and attend to your body’s needs without even really having to try. For example, if your body is craving a certain type of food, honour that craving.
Try leaning into yourself more: after all, your body knows what it needs.
Check In With Your Em
If you find yourself yearning to engage in an unhealthy pattern or habit when it comes to eating, just take a minute to stop and check in with your emotions. Ask yourself “how do I feel and what would make me feel better?.
If you were about to engage in an unhealthy habit that would be detrimental to your healing relationship with food because you were triggered, find an activity or practice that will bring you joy and provide you with comfort, for example, meditating or calling a friend.
Try To Find Joy Through Cooking
Whilst it’s understandable that it’s certainly not easy to just “have fun cooking” if you are someone that struggles with your relationship with food, if you can try to find at least some joy in cooking or preparing food (it’s actually much more enjoyable than it looks!), you may start to associate food with more happy, creative, and fulfilling thoughts.
This will do wonders for healing your relationship with food, even if it’s just on a subconscious level, to begin with.
WHEN TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
If you believe that you have an unhealthy relationship with food at all, you should seek professional help and guidance if you cannot heal the relationship yourself.
If you believe that you have an eating disorder, believe that the relationship you have with food is putting yourself in any kind of danger, or need mental health support to overcome unhealthy patterns with food, it’s even more important that you reach out for professional support as soon as possible.
Remember, there’s absolutely no shame in getting help and there’s always someone there to support you. So, if you need to, take that next step.
Most of us have complicated relationships with food, but that doesn’t mean that we should. In fact, food should be seen as something wonderful that nourishes us, allows us to sit down and enjoy time with our loved ones, and supports our mental and physical health.
So, if you struggle with an unhealthy relationship with food, it’s time to start taking steps to heal that relationship. Here’s to taking back the power and committing to a healthier relationship with food!